Eighty-five percent of the corn crop is also genetically modified, and, in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, is found throughout the food system.
These days, there is no rarer commodity in farming than trust.
Take Oregon's Willamette Valley, which for generations has been the germ of the U.S. sugar beet industry, producing nearly all the country's seeds. Such breeding is complicated when neighbors grow genetically similar crops and stiff Pacific winds, baffled by the Coast Range mountains, shove pollen every which way.
But Willamette's growers have cooperated, establishing a system in which seed producers flag their plots on a collective map, giving fair warning of what is grown where. Voluntary distances between crops were established and, if abutting farms had a conflict in what they grew, well, they could usually figure it out.
"It's a very complex system based on social relationships," said Frank Morton, a Willamette organic seed farmer. "We can all operate in the same area without screwing up each other's work."
That changed, Morton said, when the genetically modified (GM) beets arrived.